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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 22nd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 11 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 11

Changing of the guard

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

With around 600 teachers, 15,000 students, and an ever-increasing enrollment, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District is one of the only districts left in the valley able to open up new teaching positions.

That’s according to district spokesperson Maggie White, who said Santa Maria-Bonita created 16 new teaching positions this year in addition to a normal round of hiring. There are also 15 more teachers than normal retiring. Those entries and exits from the district’s schools bring the grand total to 36 teachers retiring and the potential for hiring up to 70 new educators.

 White said that hiring for so many positions won’t be an issue for the district because interviewing is a constant.

“We are one of the few districts that is still hiring,” she said. “We get applications all year long, so I would imagine we already have a great pool of applicants.”

An early retirement incentive is the spur behind the large number of teachers retiring this year. Nancy Iarossi, president of the Santa Maria Elementary Education Association, said it took a few months to put the package together and get the district to approve it.

“It has to pay for itself and it also has to save the district money,” Iarossi said.

The district offered eligible teachers 80 percent of this year’s salary in the form of an annuity if they retire this year. It saves the district money because newly hired teachers will come in at a much lower salary than those who have worked a long time for the district.

Eligible teachers had to be at least 55 years old and have worked in the district for a total of 10 years or more. Iarossi said she thought more teachers would opt to retire with the early incentive package.

“Since the economy [crashed], people have been staying a lot longer,” Iarossi said. “It might be a fear factor.”

For the 2012-13 school year, the district employed 122 teachers older than 55. Of those teachers, 59 are older than 60. Roughly 30 percent took the retirement package.

Iarossi makes up part of that percentage. She’s taught since 1976 and has been president of the teachers union for 12 years. Other teachers who are involved in union leadership are also retiring. 

“I am losing some of my major players at the union,” Iarossi said. “It’s going to be different.”

But it’s also time for a new group to take the lead, she added, especially now that the district is changing over its curriculum to Common Core Standards and switching from STAR testing to Smart Balance testing.

Santa Maria-Bonita’s curriculum director Stephanie Miller—also retiring—said depending on how long a teacher has taught, it could be easy or hard to shift the way they teach.

“Education always goes in cycles,” Miller said. “For those of us who have been around a long time, we have been through this before.”

Common Core Standards are now adopted as the teaching method in 40 states. California elected to adopt the method a couple of years ago, and seven schools in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District have piloted the method, which is coupled with the online assessment test, Smart Balance.

The curriculum won’t roll out district-wide for a couple more years, but educators are being trained and exposed to the methods and teaching styles associated with Common Core.

Miller said the method encourages students to do a lot of problem solving and to “think deeply” about whatever it is they’re studying, whether it be math, science, social studies, or language arts. For instance, on the Smart Balance assessment, there could be more than one right answer for a question. A student has to “defend” whatever answer he or she decides to go with.

The method means classroom time will be filled with a lot more dialogue between teachers and students, more talking and discussion, more one-on-one work. It will be a huge change in teaching style, and while it might be easier for new hires to slog through, it will be hard for those who haven’t rounded out the full education cycle yet.

“We have really good teachers; they probably use many of these standards anyway,” Miller said. “I think it might be easier for the teachers who have taught for 30 years than for someone who’s taught, say, 15 years.”